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Aerial Sightseeing, Tests Keep Shuttle Crew Busy

October 31, 1998|LIANNE HART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOUSTON — On his first full day in space in 36 years, John Glenn marveled at the view from 350 miles above Earth, once again thanked the citizens of Perth, Australia, for turning on the lights and began a series of medical experiments for which the 77-year-old U.S. senator is the prime subject.

"Zero G and I feel fine," the Ohio Democrat said hours after he and six others were launched into space aboard the shuttle Discovery for a nine-day scientific mission. That exultant remark reprises a comment that Glenn made on Feb. 20, 1962, when he became the first American to orbit the globe.

"We've got a good view of Perth, a nice glow and spread out," Glenn told Mission Control as Discovery passed north of Australia's largest west coast city. "A long time ago, I looked at the same thing from a little lower altitude, but it looks beautiful up here."

Glenn promised to send Perth pictures of the city taken by the shuttle crew.

In addition to sightseeing, Glenn and his crew mates were at work on several projects within hours of being blasted into space Thursday from Florida's Kennedy Space Center. While in orbit, the Discovery crew will conduct a series of experiments designed to measure the effects of microgravity on sleep, the immune system and muscle mass.

One of Glenn's first scientific chores was to swallow a capsule that allows a pager-sized monitor on his waist to register changes in body temperature as he sleeps. Those readouts may provide insights into changes in the body's biological clock.

The crew also launched a small experimental communications satellite for the Navy.

To awaken the astronauts early Friday, Mission Control chose jazz great Louis Armstrong's raspy vocal rendition of "What a Wonderful World."

After that, each of the seven crew members chose breakfast from a menu that they had selected long before liftoff. Among Glenn's choices were oatmeal with raisins, a chocolate instant breakfast mix and apple cider.

"The whole crew has adapted well to the microgravity environment," Dave Williams, director of the mission's space and life sciences, said during a NASA briefing at the Johnson Space Center here. Asked in particular about history's oldest astronaut, Williams commented: "He's doing very, very well. You could hear the excitement in his voice. I think he's been doing an absolutely fantastic job."

Although the launch of Discovery went without any major mishaps, an 11-pound aluminum door covering a drag chute did fall off as the three engines ignited Thursday. While insisting that the missing door poses no threat to the mission, NASA officials have announced that the chute will not be deployed during landing, scheduled for Nov. 7 at Kennedy Space Center.

"It is not necessary to landing," said Jeff Bantle, mission operations representative, adding that more than 40 shuttles landed safely before the drag chute was added to the reusable orbiters as an aid to braking.

Other problems included a missing insulation blanket on the side of the orbiter and a leak in a new water system that removes iodine from the crew's drinking water. Flight controllers instructed the astronauts to use an older backup system.

"This crew has been very busy in the last 24 hours," Williams said. "They hit the ground running. They are ahead of the time line in several experiments."

Today's schedule calls for more medical experiments and for Glenn to take questions from students in Arlington, Va.; Columbus, Ohio; and New Concord, Ohio, his hometown.

Times staff writer Mike Clary in Miami contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Scientist in Orbit

Payload specialist John Glenn will be on a tight work schedule in space, with days spent activating and monitoring various life science experiments. He will also serve as the subject of several experiments.

Sleep Experiments

* Digital Sleep Recorder: An electrode net worn on the head is connected to a recorder which will store data on brain waves, eye movements, muscle tension, body movements and respiration. Glenn and Chiaki Mukai will wear the recorder for several 8-hour sleep cycles.After each session they will use a laptop computer to fill out a record of sleep quality and complete tests of cognitive performance. They will wear the electrode net for six nights of monitoring before the flight and three nights after the flight to complement the datacollected inflight.

* Radiotelometry pill: A tiny thermometer will be ingested,continuously monitoring core body temperatures from days 2-9 of the mission. The data will be compared with pre- and post flight readings.

* Wrist actigraph: Device worn on the wrist will detect motion, during sleep-wake cycles.

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Cardiovascular Tests

* Tilt test: Before and after the flight, subjects (Glenn, Mukai, Pedro Duque, and Scott E. Parazynski) will be strapped onto a tilt table. A blood pressure monitor and an electrocardiograph will measure their responses when the table is tilted from horizontal to near vertical. Researchers hope to gain insight into balance and cardiovascular problems experienced by astronauts spending extended periods in space.

* In-Flight Holter monitor: Subjects Glenn, Mukai and Duque will wear an electrode set and data recorder to measure heart rhythms in orbit. Since the astronauts span a wide age range, researchers hope to collect data on aging and heart rates.

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Life-science experiments

Glenn will conduct experiments on the growing of synthetic bone tissue, the search for new substitute blood for transfusions and an investigation into a material called aerogel. Aerogel, a substance only slightly heavier than air and a tremendous insulator, could beused to improve computer chips.

Source: NASA

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